Who, What, When, Where, Why & How

Designer Gerren Lamson offers a thoughtful post about his creative process:

When I was young, I stumbled upon a small post-it note hanging up in my dad’s home office with “The Five W’s” scribbled on it. The note read: Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How. As a kid, I loved this. It was such an easy way to investigate the world with a few simple questions.

Recently, I remembered The Five W’s around the same time I started recognizing a pattern in my design work. I’ll start a new project with the strategy and framework in place, then dive into producing the details. Somewhere early on, I have to come up for air and check my decisions against the over-arching goals of the project. A cycle starts to occur as I move back and forth between “big picture thinking” and “fine detail production” throughout the project.

So, here’s how The Five W’s helped me understand this cycle:

The process of design is a loop between the Why (Intention) & What (Content), and the Where (Layout) & How (Execution).

“Why” should govern everything else in the process. It can be defined as the purpose and intention of the visual communication – how it evokes a desired response in the viewer. And, although the “Why” must be kept top of mind during the production of details, it’s most important role is setting the primary objectives at the big-picture level first.

“What” describes the content – the words and images that help achieve the “Why.” Combined, they represent  ‘content with intention,’ which is at the core of what I think defines much of design in a broad sense. When content exists without purpose, it makes consumption difficult.


Read about the Where, How, When and Who.

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